Defining libertarianism

What is ‘Libertarianism’?


I always say that I am apolitical – I do not take part in party politics. But if I am pushed, I always say that I am a libertarian. Libertarian tends to be a strange position, turn divided equally divided between right-wing and left-wing libertarians – I hope to be in the middle. But here is a discussion of libertarianism based on an analysis by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

What do I mean by libertarianism?  The short answer is that it is old fashioned liberalism as the term was understood in the 19th century by J. S. Mill and others.  However in the early 20th century the term was hijacked and taken to mean the use of governments to create freedom, so that today, at least in America, the term liberal tends to be coterminous with socialism.  The term libertarianism has therefore been coined to replace the former concept. The crucial new definition is that it looks both at economic freedom and and social freedom, and here we shall consider both economic and social structures.


The best definition of Libertarianism divides the analysis up between economics on one axis and society on the other, and then between more and less government intervention on the other axis.  The crucial questions to be asked determine which side of the axis one falls: in social matters, what is the attitude towards drugs and abortion – do you believe that the government should impose restrictions here or should it not?  Similarly on economic matters, one looks at banks, industry and increasingly today at schools.  Do you believe the government should provide and run schools or do you believe that schools should be run by private enterprise, even if paid for by the government?



Here we see the socialist position. The socialist believes in more government  control of  banks and industry – more ‘nationalisation’. On the other hand they  believe in less  government control in social matters, such as drugs and abortion.

In other words, they are illogical in their attitude towards government cotrol


Those on the right however want more government control on social matters but less government control on economic matters.  They are equally illogical.





The libertarians however are wholly logical, wanting less government control in both economic and social matters.  The only other logical situation is that of the authoritarian (or totalitarian, or possibly ‘fascist’) who wants more government control in both economic and social matters.



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